Mercedes E Class Estate

Test venues: Greater Manchester and Cheshire

Daimler-Chrysler's much-vaunted E-Class Estate goes on sale in UK dealer showrooms on June 19th, following on from the success of the revamped E-Class saloon introduced last August. Milton Keynes staff chose Didsbury Village in Manchester as the base for the UK launch of their crucial facelift in this competitive niche market segment.

Estate models are available in Classic, Elegance or Avant Garde trim levels and look set to be priced around 1900 more than the existing Classic, 2100 for the Elegance and 2600 for Avant Garde models. Prices are likely to range between 27,500 for the E200 Classic, rising to 64,000 for the E55 AMG, which goes on sale in September 2003 along with the V8-powered E500.

Three petrol and three diesel-engined-options are available, with the E200, E240 and E320 models holding sway in the petrol range. Mercedes will offer the E220 CDi, E270 CDi and E320 CDi in diesel. A five-speed automatic transmission is available as standard on six and eight-cylinder versions, with other models featuring a six-speed manual transmission.

I was able to test five of the engine derivatives over varied routes over the sinuous Snake Pass and through the Alderley Edge, Wilmslow, Macclesfield and Cheadle areas. Personally speaking, my preference was the range-topping E320 petrol version, with its silky smooth ride and impressive acceleration. The E200 felt a little sluggish to power a body of the size of the E Class, but both the E270 and E320 CDis were torquey and responsive and offered excellent fuel consumption between 24 and 32 mpg.

Mercedes' diesel engines now feature slightly more power than their predecessors, with the E220 CDi showing a seven brake horse power increase and improved torque. Management claims that fuel efficiency has been improved by two per cent and petrol versions also feature a new adaptive accelerator, which adjusts the available power in tandem with the driving style being used.

There have been several design tweaks to bring the new Estate in line with its saloon stablemate and load space has been increased by 50 litres. There have been improvements to the aerodynamics and slight increases to the width and length, but a reduction of nine millimetres in the height. Improvements have also been made to the bi-xenon lighting system.

Interior creature comforts don't fail to disappoint and the E-Class Estate offers all the usual electronic extras associated with a car in its class. You also benefit from supportive seats, which automatically inflate to give greater lateral support during hard cornering.

Daimler-Chrysler have also introduced the Easy-Pack load cover, which features a luggage net and retractable load cover. This is activated automatically when the rear hatch is opened and closes automatically to hide the contents when the boot is shut. An Easy-Pack stowage box is fitted on Elegance and Avant Garde models.

The rear seats are 19mm higher than those in the saloon and Mercedes have retained the third row of rear-facing seats for younger members of the family. To improve safety for these passengers a U-shaped extruded section of aluminium has been fitted to strengthen the boot area and channel any rear impacts away from those occupants.

Other features include electronically-controlled pneumatic rear suspension, Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC) snd two new facilities - SBM Hold and SBM Stop. The Hold function is particularly useful when carrying out hill starts, although I found that it was easy to override the system if you utilised first gear. The Stop function automatically brakes the car to a standstill without the need for the driver to apply brake pressure. I was also impressed with the Speedtronic cruise control system.

Mercedes is hoping to capitalise on these advancements and improvements by taking sales from the established Audi A6 Avant, Saab 95 and BMW 5-Series. Product Executive Glenn Stanton hopes that the E-Class Estate will improve on its current 20.8% of sales in the diesel category. Sales targets have been set at 2000 units for the remainder of this year, rising to 3000 in 2004.

Being a Mercedes owner myself I am biased when it comes to choosing between the rivals in the Estate car category. If it's prestige, excellent residual values and general build quality that you are after, then the Mercedes must be the obvious choice.

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